An Interview with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

July 9, 2020

With just a few days until the launch of their highly anticipated book, Big Friendship (out July 14, 2020) we spoke with longtime podcasters and longer time friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman of Call Your Girlfriend. The duo launched their show on the premise of maintaining a long-distance friendship, and are no stranger to collaborating with a screen in between. In the era of social distancing, we can all take learnings from their creative partnership.

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On Air Fest:
Your first book, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, hits bookshelves next week. First up, congratulations! How’re you getting ready to release it out into the world?

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman:
It’s a really strange time to be releasing a book. We live on opposite coasts so it means we won’t be together this week. We are really saddened by that, but we know we’re not alone. The pandemic means so many friends are in a state of suspended intimacy.

We’re lucky enough to work together, which means we spend a lot of structured and unstructured time together. Moving to work remotely didn’t catch us off guard because our whole podcast is basically premised on living far apart and having to catch up on the phone. Doesn’t mean it’s not hard though.

OAF:
In her review of the book, Roxane Gay (!) wrote, “in a culture that primarily values romantic or familial relationships, Big Friendship is a necessary corrective.” Why write a book about centering friendship now? What do you hope to bring to the culture?

AS & AF:
Friendships are very much at the center of both of our lives. We often joke that it’s a main course and not a dessert: A core part of a life well-lived, not an optional treat. We know this is true for a lot of other people, too. We have both loved reading novels about complicated and long-running friendships, but we hadn’t read a book in which two people discuss the real-life experience of being in the same friendship. Like all intimate relationships, friendships have highs and lows. We wrote the book that we needed at the lowest moments in our relationship.

OAF:
I first learned about your work and your friendship through your podcast Call Your Girlfriend (CYG) What lessons from making this show together have informed the book?

AS & AF:
We have been in a public conversation about many of the ideas in this book for a very long time, and our audience has always appreciated that we take friendship seriously. Exploring these ideas in writing rather than in dialogue was a rewarding challenge. Publishing is a different beast than podcasting, but all of our experience working together made it easier to deal with the logistics of a huge project like a book. We know a lot about each other’s work styles, strengths, and weaknesses by this point.

OAF:
You’ve been publishing CYG since 2014, which is an exceptional run in podcast years! Podcasting as a medium has grown up so much since that time. Has that evolution impacted how you craft the show?

AS & AF:
The show has had a very natural evolution. In the beginning we almost exclusively talked to each other and it felt more freewheeling. The core of the show is still topics in politics and culture that grab our attention, but we now feature voices of people who are experts. We interview people we find interesting and highlight books, media and art we find important. Our dynamic is still at the core of the show, but we love hearing the voices of our producers, Gina Delvac and Jordan Bailey, who occasionally conduct interviews. Editorially, the voice of the show will continue to evolve because we are evolving as people.

OAF:
Your friendship is also a business and a creative partnership. Are there boundaries you’ve created that help it flourish?

AS & AF:
We obviously really enjoy working with each other—as we like to say, we have always been obsessed with each other’s brains. But now that we do so much work together, we have to make time to protect our actual friendship. Having rituals and celebrating milestones (friendversary, hello!), and making sure to check in with each other in conversations that are explicitly not about work, are a few of the concrete ways that we show up for each other

OAF:
Thank you for letting us listen into your friendship all these years. Cheering for you and the launch of Big Friendship!

Friendship is a main course and not a dessert.

Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman